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Antz Print E-mail
Tuesday, 23 March 1999


DreamWorks Home Video
MPAA rating: PG
starring: (Voices) Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, Dan Aykroyd, Danny Glover, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken
release year: 1998
film rating: Three and a Half Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

There was an odd kind of showdown in 1998: two all-computer animation features squared off against each other, and both were about bugs. DreamWorks' Antz beat Disney/Pixar's A Bug's Life into theaters, and made a lot of money -- but then so did A Bug's Life. The most surprising things about the movies turned out to be how different they were, and that both were very good, though A Bug's Life does come out ahead overall, on DVD as well.

The DVD of Antz has a kind of unattractive blurred quality, as if the transfer was made from a flashed print of the film, rather than being transferred digitally. There are DTS-encoded discs available, which is fine, but the movie depends more on its visuals than its sound. It's adequate, but it's hard not to feel that it could have looked much better.

Also, unlike A Bug's Life, Antz has a voice cast of major stars, but most of them, as it turns out, do very good work -- and a few, including Woody Allen and Gene Hackman, do even better. Tod Alcott and Chris Weitz wrote Antz and Eric Darnell and Lawrence Guterman directed it, though many others did contribute to both the writing and direction. And unlike A Bug's Life, which is a family movie, surprisingly, Antz is aimed more at adults, with ant angst, genocide and dismemberment all playing a part in the plot.

Woody Allen provides the voice for Z, a worker ant who's troubled by thoughts of individuality -- he's even seeing an ant psychiatrist (Paul Mazursky) as the movie opens, but the shrink isn't much help. "Yes, Z," he tells his patient, "you are insignificant." All the other inhabitants of the teeming anthill (which seems to be in Central Park) are content to live up to their classifications, worker or soldier, which were determined at birth. Even Z's best pal, Weaver (Sylvester Stallone), is happy to be just another soldier, destined for an early death. Z is sure the tales he's heard of Insectopia, a land of plenty for bugs, are true.

Princess Bala (Sharon Stone), the chosen heir to her mother the queen (Anne Bancroft), is also ready to accept her fate -- marriage to General Mandible (Gene Hackman), and a lifetime of turning out millions of ant babies.

But Mandible has dreams of his own, which he shares with his sinister, but slightly better-intentioned, assistant, Colonel Cutter (Christopher Walken). Mandible is overseeing a vast tunneling project, but has some other plans -- not revealed until the end -- that require launching a war against the termites.

Wanting to see how the other side lives, Bala visits a workers' bar (everyone dances in lock step -- everyone but Z), where she meets Z, who's instantly smitten. He insists on trading places with Weaver just to get closer to Bala when the ant army passes in review, but this results in his being at ground zero during the ant-termite war. He's the sole survivor, and hailed as a hero, but his individuality angers Mandible, and Z and Bala tumble down a chute into the great world beyond the anthill. While Mandible continues his schemes, Z sets out in search of Insectopia, accompanied by Bala.

The script of Antz works very well, and was carefully shaped to Woody Allen's standard screen persona. Z is an intellectualizing dreamer, a neurotic fussbudget and, most of the time, something of a coward. Allen's familiar voice fills out the character, making Z the most likable and memorable aspect of the movie.

The other voice actors generally work well, sometimes best when we instantly recognize the voice (Stallone, for example), sometimes best when we don't (Dan Aykroyd as a supercilious but helpful wasp). Sharon Stone does well enough as Princess Bala, as do Jennifer Lopez, Danny Glover and Anne Bancroft in their roles, but in addition to Allen, the real standout is Gene Hackman as Mandible. His diction is perfect without seeming fussy, he infuses his voice with a vivid character, and during one speech, even manages to do a very subtle take on George C. Scott as Patton.

The main drawback of Antz is the unattractive design of the ant characters. They have six legs, which makes them look like centaurs at times; the faces are especially awkwardly designed, resembling nothing more than the Zanti Misfits from that old Outer Limits episode. There's nothing appealing about the design; in fact, it's easy to get the impression that they were deliberately trying to make the ants somewhat unattractive for fear of being thought of as a children's movie. It takes a while to get used to these huge faces and wide-spaced eyes, but you never learn to like them. The colors are subdued and, at times, even rather ugly.

The CGI animation still has a tendency to look like a character is changing -- flowing within itself -- rather than actually moving, but this varies. There are good reasons why the leading characters in both this and A Bug's Life are hard-shelled arthopods: rendering hard things in CGI is much easier than rendering hairy or feathered things. At times in Antz the animation is exceptional; there's a big flood at the end, and the water is spectacularly well done.

Antz is never surprising, as A Bug's Life is, but it's interesting throughout, and the dialog is amusing, intelligent and imaginative. There's no reason to choose between the two films; buy them both and enjoy them.

more details
sound format:
DTS 5.1
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Extras include alternate language tracks, cast list, trailer.
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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